|Tech Features Road MTB Cyclocross Track News Photos Feedback|
Second Edition Tour News for July 23
Edited transcript of Lance Armstrong's press conference, Palais Beaumont de Pau, July 23, 2001
Q: Is Jan Ullrich is better than last year, also is the race over?
LA: No doubt he's much better and stronger than last year - you can see that. He looks better, he looks stronger. The hard stuff is finished and the opportunities for him to take big pieces of time are perhaps finished. But there is still a lot of racing still to go.
Definitely he's a different rider to what he was last year, much harder. I thought all along he would be harder to beat, because they talk a lot, even in the winter time, about the Tour de France, what they were doing and the preparation. So it encouraged me to train even harder and to assume I would come across a much better Jan Ullrich.
Q: That look you gave Ullrich as you broke away on Alpe d'Huez is being called one of the greatest moments in sports this year. There's kind of a bravado to it that defines your style. Where did it come from? - was that something you thought about it ahead of time, was it a spur of the moment thing? Were you trying to make a statement or were you more trying to say 'let's go'?
LA: I've heard about quote-unquote 'the look' and of course everybody is guessing - what is the look? What was it, was it bravado, was it tactics, was it a question? And some people have even criticised it, saying it was a little bit in-your-face.
In all honesty, it had nothing to do with that. It was simply a check, not only of his face but of the other faces. I didn't know how many riders were still there and that's probably one of the reasons the look was a little longer. I mean, who's there? Is it Jan Ullrich? Who's on his wheel, is it Kivilev? Who's on his wheel, is it nobody? I had to examine the situation, it was not an arrogant thing. I did want to see his face, I wanted to see his mouth, I wanted to see the expression. But I also wanted to look back down the road and see who was there. When I re-watched the stage on TV I realised why there are questions. It looked like a long look, but that wasn't the purpose, the purpose was purely tactical.
In all honesty, his face didn't look bad. It looked good. When I decided to attack, my impression was it was just going to be a test, that he would follow. His face looked to me, like he was in control.
Q: The handshake between yourself and Ullrich yesterday - that and the moment on Alpe d'Huez are being seen as two symbolic moments of the mountain stages. Did you feel that way or were you just saying 'good job'?
LA: I was surprised he put his hand out. He didn't tell me he was going to do that and I didn't expect that. There were no words exchanged - I'm sure some of you guys have asked Jan what was on his mind. For me, when somebody extends his hand, it's a gesture of respect. I have a lot of respect for him, a lot of admiration. They fought hard, they tried everything tactically, they tried everything with their strength. They used all of the courses - the uphill, downhills and flats. For me, it was an easy gesture because I have a lot of respect for Jan.
LA to reporter: I bet money you're going to ask a lot...
German reporter: He said it was great you didn't pass him and it was a fair, sportsman's gesture.
LA: I really like Jan Ullrich, it's not a rivalry full of hatred, I think there's a serious amount of mutual respect there. To me, he's the only rider who really scares me. If he has a good day or a good year, he could be impossible to beat, so it's very mutual.
Q: When you were a young rider, you used a lot bigger gear. It seems a lot of your improvement in climbing, especially this year, are based on a much smoother pedal stroke and much smaller gears. It reminds me of a flying dropkick into the turnbuckle by one of the Von Erich brothers.
LA: You're terrible (laughs). I spent a lot of time in my younger years using too big a gear and climbing out of the saddle. Perhaps it suited the classic-style races I did, but beginning in '99, we really tried to focus on staying in the saddle and turning smaller gears. At the time it was simply an experiment, now it's talked about a lot. Again, it's something which is an individual choice. Not everybody is made to ride small gears and not everybody is made to ride big gears. The individual rider has to decide what's best for their body and what's best for their style of riding. Perhaps I've only figured out in the last few years that lighter gears and in the saddle is more efficient for me.
Q: What about future Tours de France?
LA: Oh, I'm coming back..At some point, there will a time for me to say, 'no more Tours de France', but that will be at the same time I say 'no more cycling'. As long as I'm racing professionally, this will be the biggest objective of the year. I don't know when that ends, it might or might not be a surprise.
Q: What about riding the Giro?
LA: It's intriguing. Every year I watch the Giro on TV and I tell myself then and there that the next year I will do it, because it's a beautiful race to watch and I think I have a good relationship with the Italian people. It would be tricky, I don't know how that plays into the preparation (for the TDF). I can't make those decisions now, I think I have to sit down at the end of the season. At some point, I will try that.
Q: Do you talk much with Jan off the bike?
LA: I never see him, for example, when he's out of the race or in the hotels. Are we long-time friends? No, but that's because he's from a completely different part of the world. We speak a little bit in the races, perhaps a little bit before and after the races. We speak whenever we see each other. But it's very rare that we actually see each other and have the time to speak.
Q: Did taking the yellow when you did perhaps help the team? Also, is the overall lead bigger, smaller or where he thought it would be now?
LA: Waiting to get the jersey was neither good nor bad for us. Even from the beginning of the Tour, there were a lot of times when we were expected to control the race. When you come in as the favourite and defending champion, they expect you to control.
So we had to do a lot of that and sometimes we were put in some bad situations when Telekom, for example, had Vinokourov in a break where we had to chase early in the Tour. So whether we took it in stage 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 - we still had some level of responsibility.
Now at that point, Bonjour was also responsible and helped out, but the team has done a lot of work and I think they've paid a little bit because they're tired. Hopefully they're getting better now since they can sort of smell the finish, but it's been an unlucky Tour for us.
I didn't have any expectations (of the size of the lead). You hope the lead is significant enough so you don't have to lose sleep at night. Let's say, for example, the lead was a minute going into the final time trial. The next few days would be very nervous and I would be nervous before the time trial. I haven't lost any sleep in this Tour yet.
Q: What makes you so superior to the rest of the field?
LA: I think I'm entering the best years of my career. I think as a 29-30 year old, it's logical to think those are your best years for a three-week stage race. In addition, I have the experience from the last few years. And like I continue to say, this year we've worked even harder than we did in 99 and 2000. The total of those three is probably the reason the performances have been what they've been.
Q: Do you see the sport in crisis or coming out of crisis vis a vis doping? Do you have any optimism that the problem and the cynicism it necessarily engenders will dissipate during your career?
LA: I think it's an issue of sport - people love to single out cycling, granted cycling has made some big mistakes. But this is an issue of sport - endurance sport, Olympic sport and world sport. These problems are not exclusive to cycling, the Tour de France or Lance Armstrong. These are global problems. I think cycling is on its way out of the crisis because it has done more than any other sport.
Look at track and field, look at swimming, look at tennis - show me another sport that has done what cycling has done. Show me another sport that has approved a test for EPO and called people positive. There's nobody. There will always be people who don't want to believe that, but you've got to look at the facts. Whether it's regarding me or the sport, at the end of the day, you have to look at the facts.
Has it been a rough few years, beginning three years ago with the Festina affair? Absolutely, it's been terrible. But I support the UCI and Hein Verbruggen and I think they've done everything that they can do. I support Jean-Marie LeBlanc and what they've done here in France. I think this is a clean Tour.
Q: What about the cynicism, will it dissipate in your career?
LA: I'm prepared to live with it, it's unfortunate, I don't know how long my career is going to be, I don't think it's going to be that long. But it might last the rest of my career. I can get up every morning and look at myself in the mirror and my family can look at me too - that's all that matters.
Q: (from journalist David Walsh, Sunday Times, who wrote a piece on Armstrong at the start of the TdF, insinuating that he had doped and others with him): You've talked about the problems cycling has had, you've talked about the measures cycling is taking. Do you personally feel a responsibility to promote a better image of cycling and if you do, how do you think your association with Michele Ferrari can be reconciled with that? What kind of message do you think your working relationship with Michele Ferrari sends out to the general sporting public?
LA: Well, David, I'm glad you showed up finally, it's good to see you're finally here. Good question. Again, I'm confident in the relationship, I've never denied the relationship, even to you. I believe he's an honest man, I believe he's a fair man and I believe he's an innocent man. I've never seen anything to lead me to believe otherwise.
Again, people are not stupid. People will look at the facts. They will say, okay, here's Lance Armstrong. Here's a relationship, is that questionable? Perhaps.
But people are smart. Do they say has Lance Armstrong tested positive? No.
Has Lance Armstrong been tested? A lot.
Was Lance Armstrong's team put under investigation and their urine from the 2000 Tour - where there was no EPO control - was it tested for EPO? Yes it was.
Was it clean? Absolutely.
Did he declare cortisone in any of drug controls from the 2000 Tour? No he did not.
Now, that brings us to 2001. Is there an EPO test? Absolutely.
Will he pass every test because he does not take EPO? Yes he will.
Did he declare cortisone? Did he use cortisone in the 2001 Tour? No he did not. I think the people believe in that.
Q: There is a feeling the people in France respect you, but they don't love you for various reasons. Do you feel there is a sort of mentality gap between Europe and the US. How do you feel here in France, surrounded by all these French people?
LA: Like a ... no, no (laughs). I think I have a good relationship with the French and I think I know about the comments you are referring to. I suggest and I urge people here to talk to Jean-Marie LeBlanc again. The little French I can speak, which is brutal, ugly and very sparse, I've tried to use. I think he was perhaps misquoted - true, in the past I've gone out of my way not to speak French. But this year I've decided to try what I can and to be more accessible to the media and the people.
It's their event, so what's it like to be here? It's a great event. If you're the president and you have a popularity rating, is it 50-50, 75-25? I don't know what mine is. Like I've said before, this is not a popularity contest. But I can try to respect the event, I can try to respect the journalists, I can try to respect the organisers. Hopefully the people support that.
Q: Do you want to set a record by winning six Tours?
LA: To tie or break a record would never be my motivation. I don't look at myself as an Indurain, Merckx, Anquetil or Hinault. I look at myself as a lesser rider - perhaps that's natural, I don't know. My career in this race is going to be played out year by year or perhaps two years in the future. So it's difficult to say if I'm going to be here in 2004. I don't know - that's a decision I can't take. I will take that with my family, my friends and the team. But the record won't keep me here, happiness will.
Q: What effect his success is having on American cycling?
LA: That's a tricky question to answer, because how do you determine that? Is it on the front page of USA Today and The New York Times every day now? Yes.
Is the US Cycling Federation experiencing growth and having more young people sign up and more people signing up to race bikes and ride bikes? I don't know the answers and the details to that.
I've always believed sports are built on athletes and if the athletes are successful and written about, the people will follow and the kids will follow. I hope that's the case. I do know now it's a little more front-page news than it was a few more years ago.
Q: A simple question: will you go to the Vuelta this year?
LA: I knew that simple question was coming. I don't know. It's 50-50.It depends on this last week, how I recover from here. I would like to go there and support Roberto (Heras), I think he has an excellent chance to win again, but I will make my decision in August.